San Jose school trustee jumps into District 7 council race
Van Le at a spring parade in 2011. Photo courtesy of Van Le.

East Side Union High School District Board President Van Le is joining the contested race for the San Jose City Council District 7 seat.

Le, 63, has served as a board member in one of the largest San Jose school districts since 2010. She also owns a State Farm Insurance agency in the city.

“My slogan is passion, experience and community,” Le told San José Spotlight. “I will put community first, and not special interests.”

A refugee who fled Vietnam in 1975, Le has called San Jose home for more than 40 years. Le and her family struggled after their arrival, and Le dropped out of San Jose State University to take on two fast food jobs to support her family, she said.

She eventually got her business degree and worked at San Jose City Hall and as an independent contractor before starting her insurance business 20 years ago. She touts her background as a small business owner and wants to address homelessness, public safety and housing while also increase support for small businesses.

“I have not seen that the current administration has done any good job to support the small businesses,” Le said. “I want to advocate a fair share for our District 7.”

Van Le is running for the District 7 seat on the San Jose City Council. Photo courtesy of Van Le.

J. Manuel Herrera, a colleague of Le’s on the East Side Union High School District school board for more than a decade, said Le is a public servant for children and families in the district.

“Van is diligent and trustworthy, and you can count on her,” Herrera told San José Spotlight. “Most of all, I trust her heart.”

Le will once again face off with incumbent Councilmember Maya Esparza. She ran for the same seat in 2018, but was out before the runoff election between Esparza and former Councilmember Tam Nguyen.

The election took an ugly turn after Nguyen crashed an event hosted by Le in 2017, where he hit one of her supporters in the head with a sign, according to news reports. Le threatened to sue him for allegedly associating her with the North Vietnamese Communist regime, and her campaign also filed a Fair Political Practices Commission complaint claiming Nguyen misused photos of local officials in his campaign mailers.

“What’s in the past is already passed,” she said. “I don’t hold grudges with anyone.”

In 2016, Le also unsuccessfully ran for the 27th Assembly seat as a Republican. Le registered as a nonpartisan candidate this election cycle. She ran against former San Jose Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen and now-Assemblymember Ash Kalra.

Van Le at a spring parade in 2011. Photo courtesy of Van Le.

Le’s candidacy comes as the Vietnamese community continue to grapples with the lack of political representation at City Hall.

In the upcoming election, Le will face fire Captain Bien Doan, another Vietnamese American candidate, who announced his campaign in July.

“We should support a Vietnamese candidate to run,” Doan told San José Spotlight. “Obviously I filed my paper way ahead of her but I think it’s important that we as a community to have a Vietnamese voice in the City Council.”

District 7 encompasses parts of central and East San Jose, including the Little Saigon Business District, a cultural and business hub for the estimated 180,000 residents of Vietnamese descent in the city.

Political observers think Le might have a chance to unseat Esparza thanks to her years serving on the East Side Union school board—but it will be an uphill battle.

“A Vietnamese candidate in that district has got to be a threat,” Terry Christensen, a retired San Jose State University political science professor, told San José Spotlight.

Christensen also expects labor unions, a formidable force in political spending, to support Esparza, but Le’s supporter said voters shouldn’t write off her so quickly.

“Most people do not grasp the great leap it has taken for a traditional Vietnamese woman like Van, who was raised in Vietnam and arrived here as an immigrant to step forward publicly in this way,” Herrera said. “She was raised to stay in the background and to be supportive of others who would take leadership roles.”

Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter. 

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